I’ve lived and worked most of my adult life on two wheels, and as such, I’ve experienced some pretty awesome rides across these United States. All the rides mentioned in this list are ones that I have personally taken. Since I have split my years between the two coasts, the routes do favor those areas, but I’ve also managed to rack up a few in the central U.S., too. I see this list as a leaping off point, one in which I start the conversation, and you, the reader, fill in the blanks for the areas I’ve missed. What we end up with could be a great collection of motorcycling journeys. Ideally, we’d come up with one in each of the 50 states. So, read my picks and then start adding more.
Yes, the road is dead flat and mostly straight, but the ride down Highway 1 to Key West is one of those rides that is not to be missed – as long as you keep the right attitude. You’ll be undertaking one of those slow, take the time to smell the fried fish rides that pays off in views rather than scraped peg feelers. Be sure to stop on one of the keys to sit awhile and enjoy the sea breeze or even go for a swim. There’s no hurry to Key West, as long as you get there before sunset. You’ll want to witness the daily boat parade and toast the setting sun with your favorite adult beverage.
While the road is anything but flat and straight, the Blue Ridge Parkway is another sightseeing ride, thanks mostly to the 45-mph speed limit and the ever-watchful constabulary. What you get as a reward for your patience, are spectacular views and the smell of fresh woodland air. Take a break at the right time of year, and you’ll be serenaded by bug song that’ll make you want to take a nap in the shade with a cold ice tea. If you feel the need for some backroad mischief, we recommend you step off the Parkway onto any of the twisting roads that cross it. Don’t forget to send us a postcard.
Older and longer than the famed U.S. Route 66 that is celebrated in popular culture, the Lincoln Highway was one of the first transcontinental highways across the United States. The Lincoln Highway begins at Times Square, New York City, and ends at Lincoln Park in San Francisco. That said, you don’t have to ride the whole Lincoln Highway to have an enjoyable experience. Any section will provide plenty of riding adventure. The Eastern section ends roughly in Chicago, IL, while the middle section encompasses the Great Plains states (where if you’re not careful you can lose the Lincoln Highway in the maze of small farm roads, thus adding to your adventure). After the Rockies, the Lincoln enters its Western section that carries it to the sea. Pick a section or do it all. You’ll find plenty to like and people to meet on the Lincoln Highway.
How does 444 miles of gently winding roadway through Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi sound to you? For riders looking for a fun tour, you get to, uh, trace the “historic travel corridor used by American Indians, ‘Kaintucks,’ European settlers, slave traders, soldiers, and future presidents,” according to the National Park Service. Camping and hiking is a frequent option along the trace and hotels/motels can usually be found a short distance off the parkway. Speed demons beware, as with the Blue Ridge Parkway, the speed limit is a low 50 mph (with 40 mph in some places) and the presence of John Law frequent. If you’re patient, you should take a moment to sample this gem of a motorcycle ride.
To outsiders, West Texas has a reputation for containing a whole lot of nothing, but if you travel the right places, there’s a ton to see out in that expanse. Big Bend National Park is contained in the southerly bump at roughly the midpoint in Texas’ border with Mexico. The mountainous desert park contains campgrounds from which to stage day hikes or exploratory rides. Adventure touring bikes would be the mount of choice here, but I spent a few days with a heavily laden Harley and didn’t get myself into any trouble I couldn’t get myself out of on dirt roads. Although there are no bad roads leading to Big Bend, it would be a crime not to spend some time on Texas Highway 170 as it hugs the Rio Grande river to the northwest of the park.
Yeah, we’ve all heard of the 318 corners in just 11 miles of roadway. However, nothing can prepare you for the first experience of riding it. If you’re like most motorcyclists, you’ll turn around and do it all again – only first you’ll stop to tell your riding buddies or anyone who will listen how amazing the road is. For a California resident, I’ve been lucky enough to ride the Tail of the Dragon on several occasions on motorcycles ranging from sportbikes to touring cruisers with floorboards. In each instance, I had more fun than humans should be allowed. Plus, there are several other nearby roads that are nearly as fun and enjoy less traffic and po-po enforcement.
The ride up the California coastline on U.S. Highway 1 should not be missed even though its international fame means you will have to contend with car and RV traffic. Motorcycles with their superior power-to-weight ratio can make quick work of any traffic. What you get for your trouble are epic views on a sinewy marvel of engineering. Stop frequently to take pictures and check the guidebooks for some truly impressive food that can rival the views. This section of road is one of MO’s annual pilgrimages.
Constructed during World War II as a means of connecting the contiguous United States to Alaska, the Alaska Highway is a dream ride for many motorcyclists. Beginning in Dawson Creek, British Columbia, the Alaska Highway winds its way through towns with names like Whitehorse and Destruction Bay all the way to Delta Junction, Alaska after a total of 1,387 miles. Along the way, you will see much wildlife, and if you’re lucky, perhaps the rare Fur Spider of Laird Hot Springs Provincial Park. Travel on the Alaska Highway is anything but dull. In the summer, the days are long and the road construction, given its short season, is frequent. Beware the signs that say “Pavement Break.” The pavement will end for how long you won’t know until you’re in it, and the surface can range from hardback gravel to loose gravel as you paddle your bike’s way between heavy road equipment. When you’re done with this ride, you know you’ve accomplished something.
For a motorcyclist who was raised in the verdant East, the expanses traversed by U.S. Route 50 seem to defy reality. The openness of the space led Life Magazine to dub Highway 50 “The Loneliest Road in America” in 1986. Consequently, the road isn’t as lonely as it used to be, but the several times I’ve had the pleasure of riding it, I encountered solitude that almost matched the tremendous views. Since it is part of the Lincoln Highway, I discovered it on that semi-transcontinental ride (I joined the ride in Minnesota). The essential part begins in Ely, NV and ends in Carson, NV. In between, the town of Austin was founded by Pony Express riders who took up mining. Today, you can meet modern day miners in the bars and restaurants that dot the small towns. Take a moment to tour the Eureka Opera House or deviate from the highway to follow the Pony Express Trail across a dry lakebed a few miles north of Highway 50. However, beware the Mormon Crickets. Visually, they are the stuff of nightmares, but collectively, they have been known to mass is such large groups on the highway that motorcyclists have lost traction and crashed when encountering them mid-corner.
(I wrote about both the Alaska Highway and Highway 50 in Evans Off Camber – Riding At Night.)
Also known as the North Slope Haul Road, the Dalton Highway was constructed to haul machinery and supplies from Fairbanks, AK to Prudhoe Bay, AK (the town formerly known as Deadhorse, AK) for the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. This road is constructed out of hard-packed gravel with frequent sections of looser stuff as it parallels the pipeline. Great for Adventure bikes, but I rode the 800-mile round trip in over four days (sleeping two nights on the Arctic Circle itself) on a Harley Electra Glide Ultra. It was worth it because the Dalton Highway passes through four distinct Arctic Zones. From Fairbanks to Coldfoot, the stunted spruce trees form the boreal forest. It crosses the Brooks Range when the highway climbs to the highest pass in Alaska, the 4800-foot Atigun Pass. Ultimately, the road flattens out onto the Arctic Coastal Plain where the idiosyncrasies of the Earth’s curvature at its poles deliver the broadest vistas possible on the planet. This view alone is why the Dalton Highway ranks as a separate trip from the Alaska Highway.